Mars Phoenix Talked to Me!

I love starting the day with this kind of conversation:

I asked the Mars Phoenix lander...

Phoenix said....

Wow, that is so cool!

…Of course, I’m not talking to the real Mars Phoenix lander, but rather to people at the mission’s PR team who are tweeting as if they’re the lander — via the account MarsPhoenix. A June 12 article explained:

Rhea Borja, Media Relations Officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory… came up with the idea to create a feed on Twitter, a microblogging Web site, to help attract a younger group of space enthusiasts. …It worked. ‘The people who are following the Mars Phoenix Twitter, they’re people who don’t typically read air and space stories or follow missions,’ Borja said. ‘It’s like a whole new world for them –– literally.’

“The lander’s personality comes from Veronica McGregor, manager of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Media Relations Office. She set up the feed a few weeks before Phoenix, which was launched in August 2007, landed on Mars on May 25.

“The plan was to set up a blog to update people about Phoenix’s progress, but that involves a lot of people and can be very time-consuming, McGregor said. A blog was still set up, but Borja’s idea to use Twitter seemed like the ideal way to give people up-to-the-minute information, McGregor said. ‘The great thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to be in front of the computer to get updates. You can get them on your cell phone wherever you are,’ Borja said. ‘So, I thought, how cool would that be if you were out and about with friends and you’re having dinner and getting the countdown of the spacecraft [to its landing]?’

This is one of the smartest uses of Twitter for public outreach I’ve ever seen — giving folks a sense of a personal connection to this high-tech mission to find water (and signs of life) on Mars. (Some members of the Phoenix team are also blogging.) I especially like that Mars Phoenix is replying to questions sent in by its Twitter friends (like me).

Makes it all seem so much less… alien!

In the past, I’ve railed against “character blogs” as stupidly inauthentic. I think it’s counterproductive to maintain the ruse of a false persona in the blog format, unless posts are very short. But for a space mission, “character tweets” from the spacecraft seem like a brilliant fit.

I’m not sure why the difference in length of posts and the nature of the medium makes a difference, but to me it does. Need to mull this over. Thoughts?

4 thoughts on Mars Phoenix Talked to Me!

  1. Pingback: Mars Phoenix has landed (on Twitter) « luddgeek

  2. When I first heard about this, I thought it was a great idea. Then I looked at the tweets, and I thought it was a FABULOUS idea!

    I really enjoy some of the posts, like:

    “I know it LOOKS easy, but you try following instructions sent from 182 million miles away! Next sample goes to microscope, poss Wednesday.”


    “Team is also teaching me how to “sprinkle” soil samples on instruments instead of emptying the entire scoop. Practicing that today, too.”

    It makes the whole project very accessible, fun, and personal. It reminds me to go check out the Phoenix web page to get more in-depth coverage. And I know if Phoenix discovers all the basic chemical building blocks of life, I will be in the “first to know” group!

  3. It’s an absolutely brilliant use of Twitter as far as I’m concerned. I’ve even added a widget to my signature that displays the latest Phoenix tweet every time I post in Galaxies Astronomy Club.

    Even though I watch my twitter stream, every time I post it seems I see some info I hadn’t known before.

  4. Yeah. They are doing a great job with using Twitter. Other organizations have much to learn.

    (What struck me just now is it’s almost like how folks talk on behalf of babies or pets. Kinda funny but kinda true. Heh.)

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